[The virtues of Cow-dung mixed with water]

[Excerpt from Letter 5, Ikkeri, Nov. 22, 1623:]

[112] When we arriv'd at this Town [of Tumbre], we found the pavements of the Cottages were varnish'd over with *Cow-dung* mix'd with water: A custom of the *Gentiles* [=Hindus] in the places where they are wont to eat, as I have formerly observ'd. I took it for a superstitious Rite of Religion; but I since better understand that it is us'd only for elegancy and ornament, because not using, or not knowing how to make, such strong and lasting pavements as ours, theirs being made slightly of Earth and so easily spoil'd, therefore when they are minded to have them plain, smooth, and firm, they smear the same over with Cow-dung temper'd with water, in case it be not liquid (for if it be, there needs no water), and plaining [=smoothing] it either with their hands or some other instrument, and so make it smooth, bright, strong, and of a fine green colour, the Cows whose dung they use, never eating any thing but Grass; and it hath one convenience, that this polishing is presently [=quickly] made, soon dry, endures walking, or any thing else to be done upon it; and the Houses wherein we lodg'd, we found were preparing [=being prepared] thus at our coming, and were presently dry enough for our use.

Indeed it is a pretty Curiosity, and I intend to cause trial to be made of it in Italy, and the rather because they say for certain, that the Houses whose pavements are thus stercorated [=manured], are good against the Plague; which is no despicable advantage.

Only it hath this evil, that its handsomeness and politeness lasteth not, but requires frequent renovation, and he that would have it handsome, must renew it every eight or ten days; yet being a thing so easy to be done, and of so little charge, it matters not for a little trouble which every poor person knows how to dispatch.

The Portugals [=Portuguese] use it in their Houses at Goa, and other places of India; and, in brief, 'tis certain that it is no superstitious custom, but only for neatness and ornament; and therefore 'tis no wonder that the Gentiles use it often, and perhaps every day in places where they eat, which above all the rest are to be very neat.

'Tis true, they make a Religious Rite of not eating in any place where people of another Sect or Race (in their opinion, unclean), hath eaten, unless they first repolish the same with Cow-dung, which is a kind of Purification; as we do by washing it with water, and whitening the wall (not as a Religious Rite, but through Custom), in [113] Chambers where any one has died.

I said, where people not only of different Religion, but also of impure Race have eaten; because the Gentiles are very rigorous and superstitious among themselves, for a noble Race not to hold Commerce of eating with others more base; yea, in one and the same Race (as in that of the Brachmans which is the noblest), some *Brachmans* (as the Panditi, or Boti, who are held in great esteem amongst them) will not eat in the Company, or so much as in the House of a Brachman, Sinay, or *Naieke*, and other Nobles, who eat Fish, and are call'd by the general name Mazari, and much less esteem'd than those who eat none; yet the Brachmans, Sinay, or Naeke, or other species of Mazari, who are inferior, eat in the House of a Pandito, or Boto, without being contaminated, but rather account it an honor.

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